Monday, November 14, 2011

White hot chili

Every time I've had white chili, it's been boring. Not much depth, no heat, not a lot of campfire. It's not something I see people making in the Wild West. Still, when I looked in my cupboard, there were some Cannellini beans. Normally the things are for cassoulet, haricot de mouton, fool... but this time for some reason white chili just popped into my head, and stayed.

This recipe does indeed have heat. My lips are burning (happily) as I type this. There are several ways to reduce the burn. You can buy medium or mild Hatch chilis instead of hot, or mix them with some other, less picante type of fresh pepper. Remember that the green chilis are what gives this soup its flavor, and leaving them out would leave it undeserving of its chili title.You could also remove all the seeds and white pithy stuff in the middle of the peppers - although that's difficult when the peppers are frozen.

  • Smoked ham hocks
  • Mesquite smoked Hatch peppers from last summer, kept in the freezer for just this moment. I left most of the seeds in for more heat.
  • Toasted cumin, toasted coriander seeds, ground
  • Garlic, lots of it.
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh oregano
  • Mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot)
  • Cannellini beans, soaked overnight
  • Garnish: strips of Mexican string cheese or Mozzarella, or queso seco. Fried tortilla strips would work well, too - especially if they were blue corn and tomato, mixed.
  1. Sweat the mirepoix, then add a bit of chopped garlic.
  2. Purée a lot of garlic (I used a bulb) in some water with some of the fresh herbs and pour it in the pot. Scrape the bottom to get any fond that might be sticking there. 
  3. Add the ham hocks.
  4. Add the pre-soaked beans and enough water to cover them plus a bit more. Keep checking the water level, and add hot water if needed. The goal is not to add too much water and dilute the flavor.
  5. Add the cumin and coriander. I want these ingredients in early so that their flavor mellows a bit and helps season the beans. I was pretty generous with these guys, but things mellowed out once the pot cooked a while.
  6. Add salt and Black pepper (White pepper if you're a French chef, but I like the taste of black better). Green pepper should work too. Some people say that if you add the salt before the beans are done, they'll be tough. Others say different. So, I added a bit of salt at the beginning, and adjust for taste before serving.
  7. Simmer at low heat for 90 minutes. They may need another 30 minutes or so - keep checking the beans.
  8. When everything is ready, take out some of the beans and water, add more fresh herbs and purée them all together. Add this back to the beans. If the broth is thin, you can purée more beans or just let it reduce at low heat, without boiling.
I'm just serving this with sourdough bread, heated to get it crispy. Simple enough.

It doesn't have the toasty, deep, earthy flavor of red chili - but the green chili does come through, along with the smoke and herbs. It's also lighter and shouldn't stain your tablecloth. It's not vegetarian, but if the bacon or ham hocks were omitted and more smoked chilis, herbs and garlic added, it could be.

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